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Heart Disease Health Center

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Healthy Diet Helps Damaged Hearts

Heart-Healthy Diet Changes

Dehghan says many people with heart disease may be under the mistaken impression that taking their medication is enough to reduce their risk.

“Both patients and physicians, but especially patients, think that if they are taking medication to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol that there is no need to modify their diet because it’s taken care of by medication,” Dehghan says. “There hasn’t been enough emphasis on the effect of diet.”

Registered dietitian Angela Ginn says many older people with heart disease think it’s too late or too hard to change their diet.

“Often people have old habits of eating certain ways and think, ‘what is the use of change?’” says Ginn, of the University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology. “But this study shows even changing at a later age can have an impact.”

Ginn says making small changes and substitutions can add up to big benefits in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. For example:

  • Incorporate more whole grains by swapping out cereals like corn flakes for whole-grain cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber.
  • Replace sticks of butter with other spreads made with olive oil, canola oil, or other monounsaturated fats.
  • Let fruits and vegetables take up half of the plate at mealtimes.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Instead of salt at the table, add an herb or spice for seasoning.

“This study encourages more people to think about changing eating habits instead of thinking, ‘I can take a pill and be fine.’” Ginn says. “Why not think about food first, it not only impacts your heart but how you feel about yourself.”

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